WASHINGTON, April 24, 2010 - When celebrated journalist James Fallows arrived in Shanghai on assignment for The Atlantic, he couldn't shake the sensation that he missed something along the way. "Is it just me?"
He's referring to the vast gap between his perceptions of what China was like and the reality of life in Shanghai. "Or is there something better journalists can do?"
He asked the question to fellow writer and China expert John Pomfret, with whom he shared a stage at the 2010 National Chinese Language Conference. Pomfret offered an apologetic laugh, but was quick to point out that summarizing a place as complex and as multidimensional as China is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, even in a feature-length magazine article. Shorter newspaper articles are even more of a challenge. Indeed, to offer balanced reporting, personal narrative, and historical context in 1,000 or fewer words is an artform.
Fallows and Pomfret easily spent a riveting hour talking about modern China, covering topics from U.S.-China policy in the last three decades, to the rise of Chinese media and other sectors out of the shadows of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
James Fallows is a National Correspondent for The Atlantic. John Pomfret is a journalist for the Washington Post.
Have you been to China? How do you describe it to those who have not been?